Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy Saturday: Waiting on Resurrection

Here are two accounts, one from a medieval English mystic and another from the ancient Church, of the Lord’s activity on this day. Though his body rested in the Tomb, the Son of God in his divinity was already bringing forth resurrection. But, are we ready for this? Do we, in fact, prefer what Dame Julian calls “Adam’s old serving robe” to the baptismal garment granting us entrance into the feast?

And his body being slain and dead, he yielded his soul into the Father’s hands with all mankind for whom he was sent. At this point he began first to show his might, for he went into hell and there uprooted Adam from the bitter valley and rightfully knit him to himself in high heaven. His body was in the grave until Easter morning, but from that time he was never more to be counted among the dead. For then was rightfully ended the struggling and the writhing, the groaning and the moaning. And our foul deadly flesh, which God’s Son took on him – which was Adam’s old serving robe – was then by our Saviour made fair, new, white and bright and of endless cleanness. (Julian of Norwich, XIV Revelation, Chapter 51)

From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

Something strange is happening -- there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. 

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: 'My Lord be with you all.' Christ answered him: 'And with your spirit.' He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: 'Awake, o sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.' 

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated. 

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, Whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden. 

See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree. 

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you. 

Rise. Let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Week Journal 2017: Maundy Thursday & the Courage to Be Served

One of my favorite recordings of music for Holy Week has on its cover a medieval illumination showing a stunned St. Peter allowing Jesus to wash his feet. These are not soft, cuddly portrayals: the Lord looks tired and intense, and Peter seems dazed and confused. I treasure this picture because it reminds me that we have to be strong enough to be served by Jesus first if we are going to serve others in his Name.

When Jesus washed feet he was performing a task more akin to changing a bedpan than hosting an afternoon at the spa. It meant a complete role-reversal for disciples and their Master. It was shocking and unconscionable. For Peter, it was initially unacceptable. “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus responds firmly: "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." There is no negotiation, no set of options. It turns out the only way to become a true servant is to be served by the Master of the House.

We hear a lot in the Church about the importance of serving others, of doing works of mercy or justice and not being complacent Christians. I think any honest reading of the Gospel makes clear we are to be servants of our neighbor, to look for those in need and to serve them well.

But why be a Christian in that case? Why wouldn’t serving someone in the Name of Princess Diana, or Bono, or the United Nations be just as good? Perhaps too many of us don’t really know why.

I think Christian service differs from other types in a number of ways, but one of the most important is that Jesus has served us first. He has come into the world, taken a body, lived with us and ministered to us in the most uncomfortably intimate and honest ways we know. He has struggled, suffered, and died for us. He doesn’t ask us to do anything he has not, in effect, already done himself.

This makes being a Christian about a great deal more than claiming an identity or coming to church simply to feel warm and welcomed. To be a Christian is an act of courage: first, to be served by the Lord of all; then, to be a servant to all others in the Lord’s name and strength.

And this brings us to the other way Jesus serves us tonight: in the Holy Eucharist. By promising to be present with us whenever we “do this” in his Name, he is feeding us with his own gift of life, his own strength and encouragement. He is serving the servants.

The two commandments Jesus gave on Maundy Thursday—to love one another as he has loved us, and to share in the Eucharist in remembrance of him—are both about being served, again and again, by the Lord himself. This is why the Eucharist is so much more than a memorial of an event in the dim past or a hospitality occasion to make people feel welcomed and comfortable: it is an encounter where Christ feeds the members of his Body with his very life, his call, his care.

When I take communion as a priest, I normally do the singularly odd thing of serving myself (this is just one part of the strange and at times dangerous spirituality of being ordained). But, when I do this, I say these words in my head: “From your hand, Lord.” I am reminding myself that I, too, am being served by the Host of the Feast. There is no real Christianity apart from receiving care from Christ—for any of us.

When we know this, it becomes much easier to love and have patience with other people. If each day, each new encounter with another person, each opportunity to forgive or reach out is “from your hand, Lord” – then we treat that moment or person very differently from something we are trying to do on our own steam.

And so I ask you tonight, as you watch feet being washed and bread and wine being shared among members of Christ’s Body: do you have courage to be served? Not only now, but in the future; are you willing to join St. Peter and be served by Jesus?

If you aren’t, then you may well find yourself always trying to prove you are worthy. If you are willing, then you may be shocked and a bit embarrassed at times, but your soul will be always be fed and your spirit warmed—and your feet will be clean, too.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holy Week Journal 2017: Wednesday & Shadows

“Darkness covered the whole land when Jesus had been crucified.”

When I was in hospital for cancer surgery, one of the more poignant moments was on the night before the operation. As the afternoon light failed the reality of what was before me grew. I couldn’t kid myself: it was going to happen. The last preparations were made, my family left, and night descended. Darkness covered the whole land for me.

It was in this moment I remembered something from our worship: the darkness of Tenebrae, a service usually offered on Wednesday of Holy Week and the name of which means “darkness” or “shadows” in Latin. It takes that name from one particular line in the Gospel, the darkness at the time of Christ’s death on the cross, which is in turn used as an antiphon in the liturgy. The entire service is a meditative embrace of the darkness, fear, anxiety, and clinging to hope found in the waning hours before Christ’s death.

The fact that the Church not only accepts but enters into this part of human experience right away marks it as different from many parts of the American scene, with the culture's heady mixture of self-gratification, forced positivism, and denial.

Darkness and shadow. The faith we live requires us to “go there” because humans often must, and our Lord did. Each Holy Week we repeatedly embrace the reality of darkness and fear, anxiety and pain. They are part and parcel of our existence, and no disciple worth the name would avoid them.

As I made it through the night before surgery, I was conscious of both my anxieties and of the fact that Jesus had been here before me. I wasn’t doing this alone. It makes all the difference to know this.

In the darkness of Tenebrae, the humiliation of the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, and in the profound encounter between life and death in the Good Friday liturgy, we Christians accept the reality of the shadows of life. But we do so always in the light of Christ. Just as the last remaining candle burns at the end of Tenebrae…providing light and hope after so much darkness…so we go into the truth of our lives always aware that Christ has been there before and is still there with us. 

Darkness no longer covers the land completely; the earnest of that New Day of salvation is here—always.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Holy Week Journal, 2017: Monday

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." (From John 12, NRSV)

The Eucharist on Monday of Holy Week always has the Gospel reading from John about Christ’s dinner with Mary and Martha and Martha’s anointing of Jesus with the costly unguent called nard. This took place before Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, but is reflected upon by the Church on this day as a foreshadowing of his hasty burial on Friday evening, when the care usually taken with the body of a deceased loved-one could not be observed.

Judas objects to this lavish (and expensive) display of love. His motives were mixed we are told, but they sounded reasonable. What Martha did was to lay down about a year’s worth of wages in her brief, extravagant offering to Jesus. Judas uses precisely the logic urged upon us by many well-meaning people who cannot understand why art, beauty, treasure, and time should have such value in the Church’s worship and community life.

Jesus’s response shows the falsity of looking at human and divine life via the spreadsheet. Of course there is excess, and of course it is wrong to ignore the needs of the poor. But if worship is an expression of love and not only of intellection, then the sacrifice of precious gifts to God in worship has a rightful place in Christian life.

I once had a friend who spent time in an impoverished country where many people lived in slums. The local church, which was the center of much community life, was open all day and night. People came in and out of it all the time—lighting candles, saying prayers, interceding for others and asking the intercession of Christ and the saints for many different (and often desperate) situations.  The church building had mosaics of gold in it and many other richly-adorned objects, most very old. My friend grew outraged at the items in the church compared with the poverty and need in the lives of the people.

He told another mission worker about his feelings of resentment. This fellow worker had lived in the community for some time. He sympathized with my friend about the poverty in the community, but he had a surprising response to this notion.

“So, you think the church’s decorations could be better used, eh?” “You bet,” my friend replied. “They should sell all of that gold mosaic and those silver and gold vessels and distribute the proceeds to the poor.”

“And how long do you think that would last?” his co-worker asked. “Maybe a couple of years?”

“And what would they have after that?” the co-worker asked again.

“I don’t know” my friend said.

“I do,” the experienced mission worker said unenthusiastically. “They would have lost the one enduring place of real beauty and art in their town, and severed their link with the love and worship offered by their forbearers to the God who alone gives them hope. You would leave them in another form of long-term poverty.”

The ongoing debate about this matter is often posed as an either/or question, which it is not. But the point about that dinner in Bethany is this: love is at the heart of everything we are about as Christians.

Sometimes that love takes the form of delivering food to those in need. At other times it means changing inherently unjust structures in society. And, often it means putting aside all other projects and priorities and giving the very best of what we have and who we are to the God who created us and has loved us “to the end,” as St. John puts it.

Never let anyone tell you this is wrong. We have it from our Lord’s own lips.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Holy Week Journal, 2017: Sermon for Palm Sunday


Each of the great liturgies of Holy Week has a distinctive element or action unique to it, giving us the direct experience of transformation in Christ. On Maundy Thursday there is the foot washing. On Good Friday, the Solemn Veneration of the Cross. At the Great Vigil of Easter, the lighting of the New Fire, the Exsultet, and the proclaiming of the Resurrection. Palm Sunday’s most distinctive moment is the blessing of palms and the procession into the church. These liturgical moments bind us all together and deliver the mystery.

By making us all be a part of the story, the Palm Sunday Procession draws us into the reality of the events of this day. In doing so, it underscores that we are all participants, not onlookers, in the Christian life. Holy Week returns to this theme again and again: There can be no mere observer this week, and we are not an audience. There are only participants—whether active or passive is up to us—in the life of discipleship. Holy Week makes this clear, and it starts today.

When Christ entered Jerusalem, he did so in great simplicity and humility. He did not mount a triumphal entry in the manner of the Roman occupiers. He rode a donkey, an animal of peace, rather than on a horse, the symbol of military confrontation. This he did to tell us that all his true followers will choose peace and not war, humility and not power.

Ever since Cain and Abel, we have been used to getting our way by force. Jesus reverses this. He overcomes through what appears to be weakness. But, do we do this in our work life, our family life, or our civic life? Do we expect others to be compliant to our desires while we ourselves try to ride in on horseback, perhaps even armed with a lance? Today we are to walk by his side and learn from him that it is not through force but through a persistent love of him that we will gain victory.

Some of those present responded to his entry by honoring him. They put greenery and their own cloaks on the ground in front of him…laying down the equivalent of a “red carpet” and giving him their form of “celebrity status.” When asked who this person was, they responded: "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee." This was the extent of their understanding of him: he was a prophet from the region north of them. Their response…branches and clothes in honor…was reasonable and appropriate for what they knew.

When we make our own palm procession today we are being asked much the same question: “Who is this?” Our response will be much deeper than theirs. We know he is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God who has come to free us from the power of sin and death. Yet, if our knowledge of Jesus is deeper, how we honor him must be deeper in understanding and effect, as well.

In place of branches that shrivel and fade, we are to honor Jesus with an enduring and loving service of others—even those that challenge us or differ from us. Instead of taking off our coats and putting them down before Christ, we must remove our pride and lay it down at his feet. This has been the purpose of our Lenten journey, and we will know we have grown in faithfulness by how quickly and eagerly we accept this task.

In doing this we not only honor Jesus as Lord, but share with him in his work. This is the way to enter the Holy City of God and the way to show we are united with Jesus and his Way of Love—not condemned with the World and its way of fear and death.

We are told by the Gospel that Christ’s entry into Jerusalem evoked turmoil in the city—the word can mean “convulsed” or “stirred” as by an earthquake or a wind much stronger than Friday’s storm. This shows us that Christ’s entry into any human situation, organization, or system will be challenging. The Gospel is incompatible with injustice, cruelty, or selfishness. Whether it be in the outside world, or in the inner life of the Church, Christ’s entry is always a testing of the truth and our commitment to it. We are never to tire of his entry. But how? How are we going to live out today’s liturgy?

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, says: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” He then tells us that to be Christ-minded means emptying ourselves of pride, and becoming servants, not masters. Ultimately, we must join Christ in dying to the World so that we may rise with him. This is a profound mystery into which we have been baptized, and it acquired only from direct contact with Christ in Sacrament, Scripture, and Service.

This week we have begun the most intentional and focused time in the Church Year of letting Christ’s mind come into ours. If we join in the liturgies of Holy Week truly and with our whole selves as participants…not merely curious onlookers…we will acquire the mindset needed to be Christians all the year, all our lives, and in all situations.

Today’s collect prays: “Grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection.” In our procession, we have begun our annual liturgical walk in the way of his suffering. If we enter into this worship unreservedly, calling upon God to open our minds to the truth of our lives and how truly we reflect the Gospel way of life, we will be given grace to come to the Feast of the Resurrection as changed people. We will more eagerly walk the way of Christ because his resurrection has already begun in us. Amen.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Field Guide to Holy Week at St. Timothy's

A Holy Week rainbow over St. Timothy's in 2013

If you are relatively new to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition, Holy Week at St. Timothy’s can seem like a formidable and even forbidding challenge: services every day or night, culminating in an intense period of fasting and one enormous middle-of-the-night liturgy followed by a raucous feast going into the morning hours. It is all so different from the usual “family Easter” of many churches, so unlike the neat-and-tidy Easter celebrations we usually see: and that is the point. Liturgy means “work by/for/of the people.” This week we experience in a special way the “work” of liturgy—and thus gain a blessing only faithful workers know.

Holy Week and Easter is the fountain of our faith. It is the essential point from which everything else we are and do flows. The events during this time form what we call the Paschal Mystery, and each Eucharist throughout the year is directly connected to that mystery, as is our entire Christian journey and discipleship.

To the degree you are physically able, it is important that all participate in these liturgies…not as an exterior ritual but as immersion into the Eternal Truth of Christ so that we may be what we receive and show forth what we experience. Please clear your calendar as much as possible during Holy Week and plan to attend Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil or Easter Day.

The events these liturgies recount and actualize cannot be made to conform to “normal” life. They point to something so radically upsetting to the usual, so counter-cultural and overturning that the only way to enter into them is by jumping in at the deep end so to speak, not standing coolly by as spectators or wading in only up to our toes. And it is this immersive experience that characterizes Holy Week.

In that spirit, here is a sort of liturgical “field guide” about what to expect and what is most important along the way from Palm Sunday to Easter Day.

Palm Sunday service begins in the Parish Hall,
recalling Christ's triumphal entry
into Jerusalem.

Palm Sunday: Holy Week begins (Essential)
This service is both raucous and solemn. Christ enters Jerusalem in a joyously ironic parade. We form up for the 10 AM service in the Parish Hall and make our way to the church bearing palms, immersing ourselves in the painful truth that Christ can be hailed King and yet turned against and abandoned in the same week. After arrival in “Jerusalem” (the church’s nave), we hear the Passion Gospel read by various members of the congregation and participate directly in the story. The service culminates in the Holy Communion, being strengthened for the journey ahead with mystical food. This will be the last Eucharist until Maundy Thursday.

Monday & Tuesday: Watching and waiting (not essential)
On these two days Christ’s movements prepare for events later in the week. Simple services of Evening Prayer are offered on Monday & Tuesday in the chapel (Morning Prayer in place of the usual Holy Eucharist service on Tuesday). We hear passages of Scripture and writings from the Early Church that give us insight about the offering Christ will make as well as what it means to follow him as a disciple. These days are very much optional services, but help keep a continuity from Sunday to the Great Three Days of Thursday-Friday-Saturday/Sunday.

The extinguishing of candles features prominently in the
Tenebrae service.
Wednesday: The day of shadows (uniquely poignant, but not essential)

Wednesday in Holy Week has long been associated with Judas’ agreement to turn over Christ to the authorities. To mark this, St. Timothy’s offers the service of Tenebrae (“shadows” or “darkness”) at 7 in the evening. Formed of Psalms, laments, and readings about betrayal and forgiveness, we become companions with Christ as he is gradually abandoned by those around him—symbolized by the extinguishing of candles. The service concludes with an affirmation of Resurrection. The message is hope-through-trial, and it perfectly prepares us for the decisive events ahead. This is not an essential service, but is unique and valuable as a prelude. It is one of the most meditative services offered each year.

The Triduum – the Great Three Days (Of the Highest Importance)
These three days really form one great mystery (the Paschal Mystery), and one service—there is no dismissal from the start of the Maundy Thursday liturgy through the end of the Great Vigil of Easter; we simply take breaks. Many people fast all or part of this time (especially for Good Friday). Each day expresses a part of the mystery and all should be experienced as a unity just as the seamless garment Christ wore shows us that his teaching and life are one integral, whole offering of Love and Truth. Participation in the Triduum is a crucial part of our commitment to follow Christ where he leads us as individuals and as a body; this offering of time and effort are amply rewarded. If you did not grow up observing Holy Week and Easter this way, you are invited to immerse yourself to the highest degree possible in this way of experiencing the Paschal Mystery.

The parish's icon of Christ the Teacher,
open to the Gospel according to John
and speaking of Christ as the Bread of Life.
1. Maundy Thursday

7 PM: Maundy Thursday Liturgy
This service starts much as the Lenten services do, but then moves to focus on the two great commandments (or mandates, from which the word “Maundy” comes) Christ gave us on this night: to love each other as he loves us, and to share in his presence through the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood. So, on this night the rite of foot-washing is offered—by which we see that humble service is essential in the Christian life—and the Eucharist is celebrated on the anniversary of its inauguration at the Last Supper. After this, Sacrament reserved for Good Friday is taken to the Altar of Repose in the chapel.  The altar is stripped and the Sacrament Lamp is pulled down and blown out while one of the Psalms of the Passion is sung, recalling Christ’s betrayal, arrest, and humiliation. The lights are lowered and we leave in silence.

After the altar is stripped at the Maundy service,the tabernacle is
left open and empty: the only time this happens each year.
It is a sign of mourning and waiting in faith.

Prayer Watch (An annual opportunity everyone should take when possible)
An all-night Prayer Watch is held in the chapel until noon Friday, with parishioners taking one hour shifts to pray with Christ in the Holy Sacrament, recalling his words to his disciples: “could you not watch with me for one hour?” This is a particularly holy and blessed opportunity to stretch ourselves spiritually and physically for the sake of our God (a sign-up for the Prayer Watch will be available in the narthex as we approach Holy Week; resources for your prayer during this time will be available in the chapel).

2. Good Friday (a solemn day to be marked by a complete fast, as health permits)

The "old rugged cross" used at the Good Friday liturgy

Noon: Stations of the Cross (for those able to attend)
The Triduum continues on Good Friday with the noon Stations of the Cross in the nave, concluding the Prayer Watch. We will make the circuit of the church, recalling Christ’s passion and death, giving praise to Christ for his extreme humility and love.

From our parish's Stations of the Cross set.
7 PM: Good Friday Liturgy
The liturgy resumes in silence as we kneel in humility before God who has loved us so much as to allow his Son to take on our ancient enemies—Sin and Death—in personal combat, and to overcome them in Love Divine. The Passion Gospel according to St. John is then read, and a sermon preached. Following this, the assembly begins the Solemn Collects, taking our part as a priestly people before God, interceding on behalf of the world with our God who has redeemed it, and showing forth the true power and significance of what Christ has done on the Cross and continues to do through the Church and its members in intercession and action. Then a rugged Cross is brought before the people and venerated by all those desiring to do so while hymns are sung. This can take a while and is often deeply personal—yet also profoundly communal. Finally, the Reserved Sacrament is brought from the chapel and Holy Communion shared as a sign of Christ’s working and presence—even in death—for us, and as an affirmation that this is indeed “Good” Friday, where life has the final word. We leave again in silence.

3. Holy Saturday/Easter Sunday (traditionally marked by a fast or light meal before the Vigil)

The Holy Saturday service at 10 AM takes place at the
main altar, now bare. We are placed at the Tomb of Christ and
recallhis descent to the dead in order to raise them to New Life.

10 AM: Holy Saturday “Tomb” Service (not essential, but powerful in its simplicity)
This simple service continues in silence, then moves to an account of Christ’s burial. A sermon on Christ’s decent into Hades from the Early Church period is read (it is an amazing text), and prayers from the Burial Liturgy are read. An extraordinary peace and quiet pervade this liturgy. The Holy Temple is then readied for the Easter Vigil.

The font is full and ready for baptisms and/or the renewal
of baptismal vows;  the brazier is prepared for the New Fire,
and the screen before the altar is in place so that our attention at the beginning
of the Great Vigil will be on the darkened nave and our focus on
waiting for the proclamation of the Resurrection as we hear
the great lessons from the Old Testament preparing the way for
this most holy night!
9 PM: The Great Vigil of Easter (our main Easter service)
The Great Vigil of Easter is the most joyful and blessed moment of the Church Year; it opens the Royal Doors to the central fact of the Christian Faith, that Christ is risen from the dead, and through baptism we may rise with him. The ancient practice of making the Great Vigil the principal Easter service has long been the case at St. Timothy’s, so do not expect Easter Day to be the larger service. Children—even young ones—are very much welcome and expected at the Great Vigil. You may want to dress them in clothes they would find comfortable in which to sleep. The nursery will be open, but little ones sleeping in the pews is entirely normal and encouraged. It is a powerful gift to our children for them to experience Easter this way; the result is that many return for Easter services when they grow older and move away. Guests are also very much encouraged…please invite as many people as you know and feel will be open to this rich and moving experience of New Life in Christ.

The Paschal Candle -- sign of Christ's rising from the dead.
It is lit from the New Fire on Easter Eve and burns at
all liturgies throughout the Great 50 Days of Easter,
as well as at all baptisms and funerals through the year.

The Vigil is long; it is meant to be. We are waiting on God, joining with the Holy Women who came to Christ's tomb in devotion and service. We wait in darkness; the church is like a tomb, with the altar area screened off by a high white curtain. Suddenly, the Paschal Fire is struck--light in the dark. From it, the Paschal Candle—harbinger of the Resurrection—is lit, processed, and blessed in a very ancient praise-prayer: the Exsultet. Then come the readings from the ancient Old Testament, telling the story of God’s loving and saving work from the beginning through the Prophets. A short sermon is preached and then our hand-candles are lit and we are bidden to stand.

It is now that Lent is declared over and Holy Baptism is celebrated and our baptismal vows renewed. When there is a baptism, the candidates (or their sponsors, if infants) make their baptismal promises in front of the congregation: we face west to renounce evil and east to affirm Christ. Then a rather unruly procession is made to the font as the Litany of the Saints is sung. We pray God’s strengthening grace and invoke the names of many saints as we prepare to add to their number. The baptismal waters are blessed in a massive chanted prayer accompanied by many ancient ritual actions, the font is censed, and all gather as close as possible (some people even stand on pews to get a better view!). Candles burn brightly and the room is hushed; it is a unique moment of intentionality as we await birth.

The new Christians are made by joining their Lord through immersion in the Font, dying and rising again with Christ. After the newly-baptized are anointed, receive their baptismal candles, and are introduced to their new family of faith, the whole congregation is sprinkled liberally with baptismal holy water, physically sharing in what they have just witnessed.

The candle used by the priest when proclaiming Christ's
Resurrection to the congregation,
just before the First Eucharist of Easter.

More darkness and waiting follow as we kneel in silence, catching our collective breath and being gathered together in expectation. Then, as the choir sings a glorious hymn of Christ’s triumph over death in rising force, the glow of the Resurrection is seen behind the screen between us and the holy altar; the curtain is parted, and we rise to hear the most beautiful words in any language: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Priest and people exchange this greeting three times. The hymn Jesus Christ is risen today follows as the curtain is pulled completely back and light floods the church. Then comes a joyous, exuberant moment as everyone produces the hand bells (or keys on key-rings!) they have brought to ring out as we sing the Gloria in excelsis while the altar is censed. At this moment the air shimmers with light, scent, and sound--pointing to the mystery we share and celebrate.

After the Gospel of the Resurrection is proclaimed, the Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom (often called “the perfect sermon”) is read, the congregation standing and taking its part as directed. The First Eucharist of Easter is then celebrated, the newly-baptized receiving their first Communion. At the end of Communion we begin to sing the ancient and powerful hymn of Christ’s victory: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in tombs bestowing life!” We sing it many times, building delight, savoring this moment of Resurrection joy together.

Now the liturgy begun on Thursday is brought to a glorious conclusion with a final blessing and a dismissal complete with many Alleluias. As we sing a closing hymn and the organ sounds in a mighty postlude, the congregation leaves what earlier seemed a dark tomb clothed in absence but is now revealed to be a bright temple of God’s glorious and abiding presence. On the way out, the priest hands each person a blessed Easter egg and gives the Paschal Greeting, “Christ is risen!” to which we respond “The Lord is risen indeed!”

Easter at St. Timothy's includes the Agape Feast,
with food and (most years) dancing for all.
It lasts until the pre-dawn hours. It celebrates the Resurrection
with much joy and laughter. The above photo shows
what the Agape looks like after the tables and chairs
are cleared and the dancing is about to begin. 
Agapé Feast (following the Great Vigil)
After the Vigil liturgy, St. Timothy’s hosts a great feast of radiant joy in the Parish Hall, celebrating the Resurrection and the AgapĂ© love we all share through it. Anyone may come, and guests are most surely welcome! If you want to help provide food or other assistance, sign-up sheets will be available in the narthex in the weeks prior to Holy Week. Please bring your own beverages and glassware. Young persons are encouraged to participate and help out where possible. This meal takes the experience of the Vigil and begins to live it out in a very vivid foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet where all sorts and conditions may gather together in holy joy.

Alleliua! Christ is risen from the Dead!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
11 AM: Easter Day Eucharist (much simpler and quieter than the Vigil)
The Easter Day Eucharist tells the story of St. Mary Magdalene meeting the Risen Christ in the garden. It is a moving account of spiritual awakening and devoted love. The familiar Easter hymns and beautiful flowers all combine to bring our Easter Day celebrations to a radiant and peaceful conclusion. Easter Day has come—but Eastertide has just begun! It has 50 days of bright celebration to savor and enjoy!